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Old 05-10-2017, 09:07 AM   #393
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My technical summation blog posts on this lithium project are still forthcoming, BUT, in the meantime, I wrote this one as a example to people that you can successfully tackle projects even if your skills are limited, as mine certainly are.

Sometimes I hear from people via email and they are hesitant to try their own van DIY because they don't think they can do it. "Sure you can," I tell them. "You just need to break the project down into the smallest possible steps."


LITHIUM BATTERY CABINET MOD ON AN AIRSTREAM INTERSTATE
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Old 05-11-2017, 07:17 AM   #394
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You're right about some being apprehensive to tackle van projects. My biggest angst is always the "How the heck do I get that off." or "Just where are the fasteners holding this cabinet up?"
I had planned a major solar/battery project, even bought most of the gear, but a back injury stopped that cold. I surrendered and had the Lewster do a really major upgrade instead.
When I'm released by doc, I do plan to tackle a couple of changes in the van.....again I'll be dealing with disassembly fears.....
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Old 05-11-2017, 08:47 AM   #395
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Sorry about the back injury. I've had two back surgeries and luckily, after losing almost 3/8" in height I don't have enough disc material left at L5-S1 to cause any more major problems.

No individual task in any of our projects has really required any particular skill. It's mostly been a matter of having the right tools for the job and being able to contort your body into unnatural positions while doing each individual task. My last task on this project is to put a final schematic together for IB so she can hopefully trouble shoot the van on her own if anything fails while she's traveling solo. But we deferred our taxes this spring because I was busy so it may be a while before this gets completed. Luckily no contortions required to complete that task.

Our next big adventure will be installing a full air suspension to make riding in the back a bit easier when we drive through New England. We don't have access to a lift so this will probably be 3 weekends laying on my back in a hot storage unit griping about how I brought the wrong tools with me. The suspension should be on a boat from the UK by now.
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Old 05-11-2017, 09:42 AM   #396
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.....

Our next big adventure will be installing a full air suspension to make riding in the back a bit easier when we drive through New England. We don't have access to a lift so this will probably be 3 weekends laying on my back in a hot storage unit griping about how I brought the wrong tools with me. The suspension should be on a boat from the UK by now.

Off topic - but inquiring mind want to know which full air suspension you ordered?
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Old 05-11-2017, 10:01 AM   #397
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Off topic - but inquiring mind want to know which full air suspension you ordered?
We're going with Glide-Rite. Last time I checked a couple years ago VB's American distributor didn't sell to DIYers so I didn't give them much attention when I decided to pull the trigger on this project. It looks like a bolt in kit but I'm prepared for some custom fab and welding if needed.
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Old 05-11-2017, 01:07 PM   #398
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We're going with Glide-Rite. Last time I checked a couple years ago VB's American distributor didn't sell to DIYers so I didn't give them much attention when I decided to pull the trigger on this project. It looks like a bolt in kit but I'm prepared for some custom fab and welding if needed.
It's a big project, but doable since you don't have a generator behind the rear axle.
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Old 05-11-2017, 01:23 PM   #399
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The original owner installed Air-Lift rear airbags with wireless adjustment.

I've never ridden in back, but it does seem to help stabilize the Van with the proper air. It also allows some leveling F/R and side to side (only if rear needs to be raised of course).

(They also fit an auto-leveling system, but someone took the jacks off- everything else is still there)
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Old 05-11-2017, 04:24 PM   #400
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It's a big project, but doable since you don't have a generator behind the rear axle.
With the Glide-Rite T1N kit there is supposed to be enough room between the differential and the generator for the panhard bar to fit.
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Old 05-11-2017, 06:28 PM   #401
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We're jettisoning our on-board generator anyway. We're not yet clear on the actual order of operations, air suspension vs. generator removal and now potentially toss diesel heater installation into the mix. But I'm anxious to get rid of that ball and chain of a generator. In 2.5 years, I've used it to make exactly one dozen pieces of toast. Which we don't even need anymore because our inverter now supplies the same functionality. The plan is to have one or two portable Hondas on hand just in case we need it/them for hurricane evac.
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Old 05-14-2017, 08:17 PM   #402
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We're jettisoning our on-board generator anyway. We're not yet clear on the actual order of operations, air suspension vs. generator removal and now potentially toss diesel heater installation into the mix. But I'm anxious to get rid of that ball and chain of a generator. In 2.5 years, I've used it to make exactly one dozen pieces of toast. Which we don't even need anymore because our inverter now supplies the same functionality. The plan is to have one or two portable Hondas on hand just in case we need it/them for hurricane evac.
Add the Easy Start to your A/C and a 2000 watt inverter/charger and you will only need a single Honda 2000!
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Old 08-12-2017, 03:22 PM   #403
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This thread could use a status update, a more technical one than I am capable of providing, but let me just add a few cents worth and maybe LB_3 will chime in.

I'm writing this from the local Cabela's parking lot (they are friendly to travelers and RVers, including people cranking gensets) as I'm testing our Interstate's electrical system holistically. It's so hot outside right now that I can't really rest my bare foot on the metal floor flange that accepts the computer table leg - it's heating up from below to an uncomfortable level, the heat is that severe. The van is absolutely getting pounded with incident solar energy in this concrete crucible adjacent to the Gulf Freeway. It's bearable in here with the a/c running on genset, but it's not what I'd call frosty.

I'm duplicating conditions as they will soon manifest on the road to Nova Scotia. I'm a morning person, and I anticipate rising every day at dawn, driving about 5 hours, stopping for lunch, napping, and then continuing the drive. Napping means I have to be able to run a/c off-grid, so that's part of what I'm testing now.

We did get the EasyStart that Lewster recommended in the comment above (it's also discussed in part on another thread), and it does work. We actually have four-way charging now - not LB_3's original design, but <insert story here> about how the alternator charging wasn't working as expected, and so we needed a fall-back on the solar, especially given that we upgraded to a 12 volt Vitrifrigo refrigerator. Those batteries are now a habit that's got to be fed.

In two sessions of system testing yesterday and today, I managed to make the following mistakes:

(1) I "babied" the a/c boot-up sequence like I do in my home office in order not to trip circuit breakers (babied = bringing loads online gradually because I have a huge amount of crap running in my office and normal household circuits don't like it). By that I mean that I intentionally turned on the a/c fan before the a/c compressor. This resulted in the inverter faulting out and the whole thing shutting down. Unbeknownst to me, the system LB_3 built would have gone through a second power-up sequence and eventually turned on the a/c without my intervention, but one sees a flashing fault light and one naturally assumes it's game over at that point. Home-made systems do not operate as consumer goods - they don't necessarily use the same logic, is the take-away. The other take-away is that the EasyStart must be allowed to do the job for which it was designed. Just crank that sucker up all at once (the a/c) and the EasyStart will do the rest. Don't try to baby it - things will just get out of whack.

(2) On my second Cabela's parking lot test, I became startled by the fact that the three simultaneous inputs (alternator, solar, and genset) had driven up the lithium input to about 100 amps. I didn't know if that was safe, so I rushed to shut down the chassis engine to unload one source. Normally there would not be three simultaneous battery inputs, but it's so effing hot out here that I could not bear to shut down the engine before the coach a/c was up and running.

During this somewhat frightening distraction, I pushed the inverter button at the wrong time, did not successfully disengage the inverter, and ended up running the a/c off the lithium batteries (which it will do) even though the generator was also running (under no load). Classic failure pathway - distraction leads to improper actuation. I wanted to try taking a nap and I didn't notice the failure until the lithium bank had gotten sucked down by about 15%. (Sigh.) The take-away from that trial is that, even with good design, this stuff is never idiot-proof.

But that's why I'm sitting in this scorching parking lot, right? To discover and work out any kinks ahead of real-time operation.

Anyway, I'll close with a pretty picture of the spare fuses I mounted this morning. I did a light Rustoleum coat on a piece of scrap steel bar, 3M'd it to the back closet wall above the main switches, and then stuck my magnetic fuse holder on it. All nice and organized. Given that I went to all this trouble for the sake of the fuses, Murphy's Law says that we'll never blow another one again in our lives.


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Old 08-12-2017, 04:04 PM   #404
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I do enjoy all your input and takes and lessons learned. However, the one question I often wonder is.....

With your hatred of that Houston heat, why stay there. Relocate to a more friendly and tolerable environment....

We have room in Colorado.....
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Old 08-12-2017, 05:47 PM   #405
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I do enjoy all your input and takes and lessons learned. However, the one question I often wonder is.....

With your hatred of that Houston heat, why stay there. Relocate to a more friendly and tolerable environment....

We have room in Colorado.....
Probably because LB_3 works at the Space Center.
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Old 08-12-2017, 05:49 PM   #406
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IB can humble the best of engineers. I was pretty pleased with how the system was running. Then I hand the van over to her and immediately get a stream of texts about how everything is broken. I had performed a system test with dozens of generator and A/C starts as well as as probably another dozen transitions between various power sources without any trouble other than a single gfci trip.

The story of the gfci trip is very frustrating in that it's intermittent and so far proven difficult to isolate. After finding a technical bulletin, it appears that when not using shore power, the inverter will shunt the input neutral to ground and it sometimes doesn't detect the shore power and unground the neutral wire fast enough. Not having any downstream loads on may alleviate this issue but it's proven intermittent and so far pretty rare only occurring once during about a dozen system activations. Adding another automatic transfer switch would solve the issue but I don't really have time for one and it would add another 30 seconds to the already slow system activation.

IB would be a good software bug tester because she is always doing things in ways engineers never envisioned. I can't count the number of times she has had a Dell service rep reinstall a corrupted operating system or come to the house to install new motherboards.

It's not really her fault that we engineers can get so deep into the technical details of a system that it never occurs to us to that someone might try to do things in a different sequence. I find this quite frustrating at work when engineers build us a treadmill with no power-switch. Seriously?!?! NASA has the only treadmill in the universe with no power switch. They never envisioned the need for the astronauts to turn off the treadmill? I guess they assumed it would rarely fail and that one of us on ground could power it down using the upstream circuit breakers when we needed to do maintenance. We do however have a radiation detector with a power switch, however if the crew uses it the device will brick itself if the ground hasn't first powered down the primary sensor. Ugh, the only thing I hate more than dumb engineers is when it's my turn to be the dumb engineer.

Having built the system, and knowing how the Easy-Start takes over the a/c start up, it never occurred to me that one would do anything other than just turn the A/C to on. But trying to baby the system by turning on just the fan first circumvents the Easy-Start and results in the generator voltage sagging below the inverter's cutoff limit and the system resetting.

Lesson Learned #1: Just turn the a/c on and don't try to baby it.

While much of the system is automated, not all of it is. It's an either or proposition with the inverter and alternate power sources which leads us to IBs second issue. If the inverter is inverting it will keep inverting. It has an internal 30A transfer switch but it won't interrupt existing power so if you want to use shore or generator power you must first turn off the inverter.

Lesson Learned #2: Turn off the inverter before starting the generator or plugging into shore power.

As for IB's distressing sight of pumping 100 Amps into the battery, it's expected and safe. I didn't necessarily plan to charge from the generator and alternator at the same time but I did size the wiring and heat sink to handle the BMS's rated capacity of 100 charging Amps. The BMS will shut off the charging if it exceeds 120 Amps or if the BMS gets too hot but I put a sizable heatsink on the back of the BMS and it's mounted to an aluminum panel so it should be fine.

I'll post a schematic this evening.
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